Video from inside Iran showed riot police and protesters back out on the streets on Monday after two days of violent anti-government demonstrations. Images of the earlier protests showed slogans chanted against the supreme leader, with pools of blood on the streets and gunfire in the air.
Authorities denied that police had opened fire, while U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: “don’t kill your protesters.”
Demonstrations at home against Iran’s rulers are the latest twist in one of the most destabilising escalations between the United States and Iran since the Iranian revolution of 1979.
Tehran has acknowledged shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner by mistake on Wednesday, killing 176 people, hours after it had fired at U.S. bases to retaliate for the killing of Iran’s most powerful military commander in a drone strike ordered by Trump.
Iranian public anger, rumbling for days as Iran repeatedly denied it was to blame for the plane crash, erupted into protests on Saturday when the military admitted its role.
Videos posted late on Sunday recorded gunshots in the vicinity of protests in Tehran’s Azadi Square. Wounded were being carried and security personnel could be seen running with rifles. Other posts showed riot police hitting protesters with batons as people nearby shouted “Don’t beat them!” “Death to the dictator,” footage circulating on social media showed protesters shouting, directing their fury at Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the system of clerical rule.
“They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics,” demonstrators chanted at a protest outside a university on Monday, an apparent reference to Iranian students returning to studies in Canada who were among those killed on the flight.
Reuters could not independently authenticate the footage. State-affiliated media reported the protests on Saturday and Sunday in Tehran and other cities, without giving such details.
“At protests, police absolutely did not shoot because the capital’s police officers have been given orders to show restraint,” Hossein Rahimi, head of the Tehran police, said in a statement carried by the state broadcaster’s website.
Iran’s latest showdown with the United States has come at a precarious time for the authorities in Tehran and their allies across the Middle East, when sanctions imposed by Trump have caused deep harm to the Iranian economy.
Iranian authorities killed hundreds of protesters in November in what appears to have been the bloodiest crackdown on anti-government unrest since the 1979 revolution. In Iraq and Lebanon, governments that have the support of Iran-backed armed groups have also faced months of hostile mass demonstrations.
Trump wrote on Twitter late on Sunday that National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien had “suggested today that sanctions & protests have Iran ‘choked off’, will force them to negotiate.” “Actually, I couldn’t care less if they negotiate. Will be totally up to them but, no nuclear weapons and ‘don’t kill your protesters’,” he wrote, repeating his earlier tweets making similar calls to the Iranian authorities not to open fire.
Iran’s government spokesman dismissed Trump’s comments, saying Iranians were suffering because of his actions and they would remember that he had ordered the killing in a drone strike of Qassem Soleimani, the general whose death on Jan. 3 prompted huge morning ceremonies in Iran over several days.
Trump precipitated the escalation with Iran in 2018 by pulling out of a deal between Tehran and world powers under which sanctions were eased in return for Iran curbing its nuclear programme. He has said the goal is to force Iran to agree to a more stringent pact.
Iran has repeatedly said it will not negotiate as long as U.S. sanctions are in place. It denies seeking nuclear arms.
The recent flare-up began in December when rockets fired at U.S. bases in Iraq killed a U.S. contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters. The militia surrounded the U.S. embassy in Baghdad for two days, and Trump later ordered the strike on Soleimani, who had built up Iran’s regional network of allied militia.
Iran retaliated on Wednesday by firing missiles at Iraqi bases where U.S. troops were stationed, but did not kill any Americans. The Ukrainian plane, on its way to Kiev, crashed hours later. Most of those killed were Iranians or Iranian dual nationals. Scores were Canadians, most believed to be dual nationals who had travelled to Iran to visit relatives there.
After days of denying responsibility, commanders of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards issued profuse apologies. Iran’s president called it a “disastrous mistake”. A top commander said he had told the authorities on the day of the crash it had been shot down, raising questions about why Iran had initially denied it.
Canada held vigils. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told one event: “We will not rest until there are answers.”
Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said it had obtained visas for two of its investigators to travel to Iran.